This column, like most of my best columns, begins with a confession. I am not the greatest expert in slasher movie lore. Growing up in an extremely religious and conservative home, most horror movies, and really any movies with an over PG-13 rating, were banned. I think the first actual horror movie I ever saw was the original Evil Dead, and that wasn’t until college.
As such, I don’t have the nostalgic affection for the horror genre that many of my contemporaries do. I’ve never seen a Nightmare on Elm Street film all the way through, and the only films I have seen with Jason were Freddy vs Jason (which I saw at a party) and Jason X, which was on the sci-fi channel while I was staying at a hotel.
That being said, even without having watched a lot of these films, they have become such a part of our cultural zeitgeist that even without seeking them out, I am fully aware of the content of most of the films. When I saw Cabin in the Woods (again, at a party) I understood the tropes well enough to understand the plot, and get most of the jokes.
So, as I dove into Maniac of New York I did so as someone who feels very well versed in all of the horror tropes, but not super familiar with all of the horror films. (I did read the Wikipedia articles on all of the Jason films though, and that’s just as good, right?) But you know what, that’s OK, because while this comic is clearly influenced by those classic slasher films, and does pay loving attention to their tropes and traditions, the book is actually doing something a lot deeper with this concept, and it strikes a lot closer to home that we might be expecting. Let’s get into!
Here’s the blurb:
Four years ago, a masked slasher began stalking the streets of New York City.
Maniac Harry is inhuman, unkillable and unstoppable. Which is why the authorities’ solution has been to ignore him, and let New Yorkers adapt to a world where death can strike at any mo-ment. When Maniac Harry starts killing his way through the subway system, trauma-haunted political aide Gina Greene and disgraced NYPD detective Zelda Pettibone become determined to go rogue and destroy him. But how can they fight a monster when they can’t fight City Hall?
From Emmy Award-winning writer Elliott Kalan (The Daily Show, MST3K, Spider-Man & The X-Men) and artist Andrea Mutti (Port of Earth, Hellblazer) comes the horrifying story of what happens when terror becomes the new normal. A frightening, thought-provoking, sometimes funny, always timely tale of murder, obsession and urban living.
Like I said, I am not a horror aficionado, but I was immediately able to recognize the beauty of this book, which is that while horror fans will see a lot they love in it, it’s enough it’s own thing that you don’t need to have watched horror films for the last 40 years to get what Kalan is doing with this.
Our story starts in 2016, with the mysterious Harry slaughtering his way through Times Square on New Year’s eve. Harry is, for all intents and purposes, Jason Voorhees. He’s big, violent, silent, unstoppable, and even wears a pseudo-hockey mask. The authorities vow to take him down, but as with his film counterpart, nothing seems to be able to stop him.
We then cut to 4 years later, where Harry’s murders have continued unabated, with most people just having given up trying to do anything about it. Nothing can stop him, and so rather than continuing to fight the inevitable, society has just learned to live with the killings, with the news giving the local Harry forecast, politician’s victim blaming, and more than a few people claiming it’s all a big false flag operation.
The police as well have just accepted it as something that happens, and life, for the most part, has moved on to adopt a semblance of normalcy. (Plus, any unsolved murder can be pinned on him, so it’s convenient for the police who want to clear paperwork in a hurry.)
And it’s here, in this acceptance of the horror, that Maniac of New York really shines. What’s happening in New York is utterly terrifying. An unstoppable monster is killing indiscriminately with no way to stop him, and people just get used to it and move on with their lives.
The obvious parallel here is to terrorism, and the way that we just kind of accept that a terrorist attack could happen, but we don’t really do much about it other than keeping an eye out now and then, but I think this goes even deeper than that. Kalan’s a brilliant write and social satirist, and there’s much more at play here than just commentary on how New York responded to 9/11. Maniac of New York is about how humanity as a whole responds to the everyday world in which we live.
Humanity has an amazing ability to become numb to tragedy. I’ve been a public school teacher for 2 decades. In that time we have sadly seen a rise in school shootings, a national disgrace which our elected leaders seem unable, or unwilling, to do anything about. A few times a year now we have to take our kids through lockdown drills. They’ve become as common place as Fire Drills and Tornado Drills, and just like those most people treat them more as an annoyance than as a very real horror of our everyday lives.
So when I read Maniac of New York where a literal killer is slaughtering people by the truckload and the response of the general public is just to try to avoid it like bad weather, or blaming the victims for not being vigilant enough, it really hit home, hard. This isn’t just a cool book about a slasher killer rampaging though New York. It’s a mirror held up to a society that hasn’t take a look at itself in so long it doesn’t even recognize its own reflection.
People in Maniac of New York have just given up. They, like us, have become so used to the tragedy that they stopped caring, and that’s the part that’s truly terrifying.
Maniac of New York is brilliant. It’s funny, tragic, gut wrenching, and best of all does what satire is supposed to do.
Let me also give a special shout out to the amazing art of Andrea Mutti. Mutti worked on another darkly satirical work Port of Earth and his art is fantastic, not just in depictions of the characters, but in depicting the realities of this world. I kept going back and looking at little details and clues left throughout the book, like I did with Port of Earth. Very, very happy to see him working on this book, and very much looking forward to where this series goes from here.
Buy this book. Buy your friends this book. Buy everyone you know this book. I know it’s pretty early to say this, but I legitimately feel Maniac of New York is going to be a contender for best indie series of the year.
Until next time friends, stay safe.